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gdgdad 06-06-2020 09:22 AM

Status and thoughts on Aeroponic
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Stan, sorry for the delayed response. We’ve had 2 waves of visitors over the last 4 weeks! Family “escaping” their state’s “Lockdown”! I’d tried posting yesterday, but the site was down, and even as I post this it seems to be running slow.

Going full aeroponic for tomatoes will be interesting.
Are you running the pvc completely through the bucket, then 2 sprayers on each side of the netcup?

Given how massive the tomato plants get, the cages will have to be strong and not be supported by the buckets. I actually “hung” my tomato cages from a 2X2 that goes across the green house (see pics). Without perlite as a base, I’d worry the weight of the plant at the net cup/bucket lid would push the net cup through. I was able to re-coup easily 90% of the perlite when I changed plants, only replaced the paint stariner bags.

I’ll be following your progress closely. I believe the aeroponic approach would actually be better, no roots growing up into and clogging hose lines, and I swear the plants grow faster in the aeropnic cloner bucket. But, as I learned on my aeroponic rail system, I’d devise a way to easily access and change sprayers. My next design will have capped access holes over the sprayers, and I’ve already fabricated a tool to reach down into the rail and extract and replace the sprayer quickly. I’ve also learned lessons on what to grow and not grow in a rail system. Some plants get massive, overwhelm the rails covering other net cup “slots”. I’m sticking to small lettuce, small herbs & spices (the Peppermint got massive!!) and we’ve had great results with (and love to eat) the Bok Choy.
As usual, the nutrient/ water consumption is phenomenal! Dutch Buckets alone 462 gallons since November 1st. Lastly, I’m currently growing 2 Tear Drop, 1 cherry and 2 different Beef Steak tomatoes (see pics). I’m definitely exploring an aeroponic system to grow things like summer squash, small “8 ball” water mellon. It would have to have broad spacing between plants, or maybe even moving away from PVC pipe or rail to individual buckets smaller than 5 gallon. We wanted things like Broccoli and Brussel sprouts, but not sure how to accommodate the height/weight. Keep me (and the blog) posted on your progress. Good luck!

Stan 06-10-2020 08:49 PM

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I have grown tomato plants, peppers and strawberries using the rail system pics posted here.


The plants would get to a certain height and then would stop growing due to the rail being filled with roots. Thats why I had switched to dutch buckets and stayed with it for a while. Even though I got excellent amount of tomatoes using dutch bucket I felt aeroponic could possibly almost double the amount and thats the reason why I am taking a big risk doing it this way. Today I had to change the way each bucket drains as it was getting clogged with some of the hydroton on the bottom of each bucket.

The net pots will hold no matter how big the plants get the lids are very solid not flimsy. The tomato cages I have had them the past couple years they are super strong and will be screwed into the wood planks so they won't move.

I have the lids just sitting on top of the 5 gallon buckets so I can check to see if any sprayers are getting clogged. The loose lids are also so I can check the roots and move them away from the drains so they don't grow into them.

So far the plants have shot up and the roots system is getting pretty big. I have plucked off a ton of suckers from all the plants. I took 1 of the suckers today from the big heirloom plant and put it inside a rockwool cube and surrounded with hydroton placed it in the very last bucket at the end of the line. I put a small wire cage around and placed a cover on top so the plant does not get hit with direct sunlight until I see roots growing out the sides of the net pot.

Posted below 3 pics the first is from May 28th same date as the prior pics I posted. The pics will look down the line of plants from above. The other 2 pics were taken today. You can easily see the difference in the height of the plants and the root system inside the buckets after only 13 days.

gdgdad 08-21-2020 12:29 PM

Touching base - hows experiment going?
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Hey Stan, Hope all’s well and everyone’s healthy! Just touching base to see how the “experiment” is going with full aeroponics in buckets. It’s something I’d consider changing over to, eliminating perlite. I’m in a “pause” right now, took down all the tomato plants. They just weren’t producing. I think the heat and humidity was just too much. After the tomato plants (from the seeds you sent me), I should’ve switched to heat tolerant tomatoes, like the Florida-91 or Heatmaster variety. Though they don’t get very large – from 7 to 10 oz., they would hopefully at least produce more. The other BIG issue I had was stink bugs – they ruined most of the tomatoes. My neighbor and I are trying a dawn dish soap & water mix his farmer friends in Jamaica say works, but we didn’t start using that until it was really to late, so we’ll see. Neems oil didn’t seem to affect them, also, there’s a treatment called Spinosad® that I may try. Anyway, I did harvest plenty of suckers for the next crop (see the cloner pic). The Cherry & Teardrop clones are growing super-fast, the two varieties of Beefsteak seem to be slower, but roots are developing. I’ll be starting more seeds for the rail system soon – I just have to carefully select what I’ll grow and their placement in the rails. Things grew so big that the plants were overtaking each other. So…. Update me on the aeroponic/Dutch bucket experiment and stay well.

Stan 09-15-2020 10:43 AM

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Hi all is well here, thank you!!

The seeds I sent you for the big heirloom and chocolate cherries probably should be used during your winter grow. This year we had the hottest year ever with consecutive 90+ degree temperatures and my plants suffered from it. I had plenty of tomatoes until the extreme heat which shut off the plants from producing tomatoes and the tops of the plants were burnt. Second year in a row that has happened to me due to extreme heat. Never happened before that and I've been growing for years. I might be asking you for some of your seeds for next year.

The aeroponic system worked real good as the plants grew faster. Once the roots reach the bottom of the bucket I used less and less running time. I will be doing some changes for next year but will stay with aeroponics. I will say you do have to keep an eye on the aeroponics more than you do growing the other way. If water shuts off or something gets disconnected for a couple hours your plants will suffer.

When we got hit with Tropical Storm Isaias we were only supposed to get 60mph winds we ended up getting 80+mph for a couple hours which ended my grow. I clipped all my plants down to 1 foot above the buckets. The heat continued so the plants did not respond well until the temps went down to low 80's and 70's. I added 2 pictures taken today of 2 plants 1 chocolate cherry 2 Cherokee Purple that are forming tomatoes. I should be able to get some ripe tomatoes before the winter. I also have tomatoes forming on the Big Heirloom but they take 90 days to finish. I might cover the outside of the tomato cages with clear plastic to turn it into a hothouse for as long as I can.

BH pictures = Big Heirloom
CC pictures = Chocolate Cherry
CP pictures = Cherokee Purple
YC pictures = Yellow Cherry
NP1 picture = Chocolate Cherry taken today
NP2 picture = Cherokee Purple taken today

gdgdad 11-03-2020 03:17 PM

Winter “crop” started
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Hey Stan, hope this post finds you doing well, I see it’s getting a little chilly out there so I doubt you’ve got much growing. I shut both Dutch buckets and rail systems down September 9th., tomatoes had quit producing and most of the rail plants died out. It was a very hot September and October pretty much the same. I “attempted” starting seeds about mid-September, and has been the case in previous seed starts, I could not get seeds to germinate. I assumed it was the age of the seeds and ordered fresh. I still had a very low yield, i.e. ~ 6 out of 15 rockwool cubes germinated. I use the humidity dome, heating pad (though probably not necessary), placed in indirect sunlight outside on Lanai and so on, but little luck. Anyway, in the Dutch buckets I stayed with perlite (I was able to re-coup/re-use about 80%). This time I’m doing only 3 tomato plants (see pics) – a cherry, a Big Boy and a Supersteak. The other 2 buckets will be green bell peppers and Brussel sprouts (waiting for seeds). On the rail system, I have 4 Bok-Choy plants going, but they’re not doing great – I think it’s still to hot. Not sure what to plant in the 20+ remaining “slots”. Maybe strawberries??? Lastly, I’ll be ordering nutrients from Verti-Gro (ran out this summer) and I’m using Miracle grow for now while they’re small. So – any suggestions / “sure fire” tips on getting higher yields on starting seeds in rockwool cubes? Thanks again for all your help.

Stan 11-03-2020 04:45 PM

Strawberries would probably be best during your winter months as they thrive on cooler air temps along with cilantro or oregano and others similar.

If you are reusing perlite you should try to get all dead root matter out before planting new. If the plant before had problems the new plants might if root matter was left behind.

If you are not getting any germination using the rockwool cubes then go to the old fashion reliable way. Take a paper towel wet it down place some seeds separated fold the wet paper towel over and place seeds in a somewhat warn dark place for 2 days. Make sure the paper towel doesn't get completely dry after the first day. If you feel its to dry just spray with fresh water so its damp. By the second day open the paper towel to check on the seeds see if any cracked open. You might have to wait another 2 days if they did not. If they still didn't open they are probably not good. If they crack open you gently pick them up and put them in the rockwool cubes.

As for the rail system do you have it on an angle for the water to drain very slowly or is is draining fast? It should not drain fast reason being it would be like a river running down each rail pulling on the roots. This will stress the plants. The water should run out slowly so it doesn't pull that hard on the roots. Also the rails and PVC piping needs to be cleaned if the system was shut down for a week or more. If its constantly being used you could clean once a year.

gdgdad 11-04-2020 12:10 PM

Follow up and questions
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Thanks for the advice Stan. I think I’ll go with strawberries for the rail system, some of the herbs and spices I grew became enormous, overwhelming other plants. On the perlite, I had it spread out on a sheet drying in the sun for over a month and when re-filling buckets I did remove roots and pine needles. I also “re-claimed” what hydroton there was.

On starting seeds, I’ve tried 2 different techniques, and in each instance I have pre-soaked the cubes in 6.0 ph water (no fertilizer) for 1 or 2 hours. On my 1st. try I placed 3 or 4 seeds ~ ¼” down and gently closed the hole. On 2nd. Attempt, I “dug out” a ¼” round hole, ¼” deep in the cube the placed some Vermiculite in the hole, inserted 3 or 4 seeds, then covered with vermiculite. In both instances I then place them in the humididome (sic?) – (see pics) and check them daily to insure they’re moist. Then I patiently wait the 10 to 14 days the seed pack says, but give up after about 15 days. I’ll try the paper towel method next.

On the rail system, the rails are level and the drain tube is about 1/8” up inside the rail (see pic). There’s little or no standing water between spray intervals. The roots seem to have done really well, and they were massive when I pulled them out. I did completely clean out the rails and drains, removing end caps, snaking drainpipes and checking/testing sprayers. Lastly, the Pepper and Brussel Sprout seeds should be here Friday and I ordered the Verti-Gro FCombo pack today. Last question, do you think I could put more then 1 Brussel sprout plant in a single Dutch bucket seeing they’re getting all the nutrients/water at regular intervals? Thanks again, Gar

Stan 11-05-2020 05:59 PM

Usually my tomato seeds germinate within 2 days days at the most with cool temps. When in the 60's they germinate very fast. In the 70's don't use heating pad.

With other seeds with harder outer shells i will usually slightly scruff the outer shell with a fine piece of sandpaper.

Again if no germination with the rockwool damp paper towel will do the trick.

As for brussel sprouts I have never tried growing them so I would try 1 plant the fist time and judge by that if you could do more the next time.

Yes those rails will be filled with roots after 1 grow it's incredible how much comes out. With rails its better to get the roots out as soon as possible otherwise the roots will stick to the sides and bottom. I use a power washer to clean then out it's so much faster.

gdgdad 11-06-2020 11:35 AM

Following you advice & question on strawberries
Thanks for the tips and info Stan. I’m starting the Brussel Sprout and Green pepper seeds today in rockwool cubes. Per your advice, no heating pad. I’ve seen different theories on light vs no-light when rockwool cubes are first placed in a “humidome”. I’m going to try darkness via covering the humidome with a box. The minute I see a sprout, that cube’s off to the aeroponic cloner in the greenhouse – that quick move has worked every time for me.

We’ve decided to try (add) Strawberries in the aeroponic rail system, but I’m not sure where to start…. Looking for seeds was VERY confusing (and discouraging). You have any suggestions on seed type and sources? And did you start yours in rockwool cubes? I can’t find any information on that.

We are into cooler nights and cooler days aren’t far off – should be an ideal time to start seeds. I’m seeing germination times of 7 days to 6 weeks (!?) – what was your experience? I’ve also read strawberries are perennials – not sure how that would work in my rail system - when would they be removed?
Thanks again for any advice / direction


Stan 11-06-2020 04:59 PM

Don't start strawberries from seeds you will not get any strawberries the first year. You need to buy Strawberry bare root. Get everbearing they will produce all year but during your summer months you would have to move your rails indoors the heat will stop them from producing more until it cools. If you move them indoors you will continue to get more.

When growing from bare root grown strawberries eventually you will see a lot of runners take them without cutting them off and put them in a small dirt pot so they will form roots. Transplant into a bigger dirt pot. When they reach 1 year old you can grow them in the rail. Strawberry plants only last approx 5 years so these runners will constantly supply you with new plants.

If you want to grow from seeds you get them from the strawberries you eat. Follow these directions to see how you extract and trick the seeds into into germinating faster than they would.


gdgdad 11-06-2020 07:28 PM

A strawberry challenge for sure, and how to reckon with “runners”…
Thanks so much, everywhere I looked was pushing “bare root” plants, so that explains that. A couple of probably dumb sounding questions but…. I’ve never bought bare root plants - would I be putting the bare root plants in a rockwool cube similar to how I place a tomato sucker? And I’m not certain about the “….taking runners but without cutting them off….”, could you explain that? I understand putting them in small dirt pots (best medium?).

Moving rails inside would not be an option, but keeping “runners” (clones?) inside the house in pots would be doable. The question would be transplanting from potted plant into rail system. Rinse roots and place in rockwool similar to tomato cloning? (by the way I had incredible success cloning!). I’ve never done that but I’ve heard of people doing that for plants they buy at a nursery (though it’s considered a bad practice in the Hydroponics circles I’ve researched).

Lastly, as I was writing this my Vert-Gro Nutrients came so I’ll be draining (but saving) my Dutch Bucket reservoir and going with ~ 50% strength. The “re-claimed” nutrient is the Miracle Grow mix, I’ll use it in the “super cloner” (which has four 4” high beefsteak seedlings).

Again, I sincerely appreciate all the help, knowledge and advice you’ve provided. Between you and my Jamaican farmer neighbor, I would never have had all the success I’ve had. Thanks again!


Stan 11-06-2020 10:10 PM

With bare root strawberries you have 2 ways of planting them.

1. Plant them directly into perlite in the 5 gallon buckets 4 bare root per bucket.

2. With aeroponic rail put the bare root directly into net pots. You'll need a small tool with hook so you can pull some of the roots from the bare root through the net pots then cover up the rest with hydroton.

Don't put them in neoprene collar they will die.

Here's pic of 1 of the strawberry plants in my rail system from years back.

When I would get some runners I would put a small dirt pot on top of the rail in between the plants and stick the runner into the dirt. Within 2 weeks they start to grow roots then I cut the runner off from the plant keep for 1 year then transplant to hydro.

As for it being a bad practice in hydroponics circles? These are probably what I call hydroponic purists. I tell them hydroponics wasn't around 100 years ago so no matter what they are currently growing will have genetics from soil grown plants.

Hydroponics purists are just like fly fishing purist. FF purist believe you are not FF if you tie flies with synthetic material. I tell the FF purist if you can cast it with a fly rods fly line and catch fish with it it's a fly!!!

gdgdad 02-15-2021 04:41 PM

Touching base and update(s)
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Hey Stan, I’ve been a little remiss on keeping the blog updated, apologize for that. Needless to say there’s been a lot going on (damn Covid!)…. Anyway, back in early October I started new batch of tomato seeds, two types of beef steak and a cherry tomato. Also started green peppers and I’m experimenting with brussel sprouts. After my usual several attempts starting from seed, finally got some tomatoes going, moving them to Dutch buckets November 3rd. I moved a single green pepper and 2 brussel sprouts to Dutch buckets about a month later. The tomatoes struggled, mainly due to several unusually cold nights, my heating system struggled to keep them at least in the 40’s. One night the green house went to 39 after a heater somehow came unplugged. I think the heated reservoirs is what saved them. Regardless, they grew a little odd and deformed, but now are really going and have good size (still green) tomatoes. And weather wise, I think we’re out of the woods. From the pictures you can see the beef steak tomatoes aren’t quite what they were last summer-fall season, though the Cherry is producing like crazy – several “harvests” since early February. I experimented putting 2 brussel sprouts in 1 Dutch bucket, never expected what you see in the pic, we’ll see what happens…. I am going with mainly lettuce on the rail system, here again MANY frustrating failed seedling attempts, though I think figured out what I was doing wrong (and not doing). I’m (attempting) to grow Black Seed and Butter Crunch lettuce, supposedly “Ideal” for aeroponics. If all the lettuce seedings continue to survive, I should have 9 plants. I want to do more in the rail system, maybe even “cheat” and buy some nursery plants, rinse the roots and put them in netcups with hydroton – your thoughts? Any suggestion on veggies suitable for rail system? Still thinking about doing strawberries – do you have a source you use? So…. In summary I have the Dutch buckets going, cloner going, rail system going and seedling tray going – and hoping for the best. Thanks and stay in touch!

Stan 02-17-2021 12:46 AM

Glad to hear you are ok. I can't wait for this COVID to be over already. I'm waiting for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to come out before I get the shot. I am passing on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. I read up on all 3 Johnson & Johnson vaccine works in a much different way than the other 2. Pfizer and Moderna protection is short whereas the J & J is very long lasting.

Tomato plants are very resilient. They will survive low temps as long as it doesn't hit 32 degrees or lower. Your plants are looking good!

With lettuce you better get them going fast cause when it gets hot out they tend to stop growing. If you want to try other lettuce types then yes buy some plants rinse off the soil from the roots and stick them in net pots. With the lettuce you like the most let 1 plant grow to flowering stage. When the flowers dry up you will get lots of seeds inside.

As for strawberries its harder to start from bare root. Buy plants that are already producing fruit rinse the soil off and put them in every 3rd spot on the rail. Get strawberry plants that are everbearing grow fruit all year. When it gets very hot during the summer they will develop runners. Let the runners grow into a very small pot with soil for at least 1-2 months so it will develop roots. Transplant them into net pots in between each plant so they can grow. You will get lots of runners so keep a bunch in soil pots for at least a year. You'll be able to transfer them at anytime to the rail system.

Strawberry plants will produce lots of fruit for 3-4 years then they tend to slow down. Thats why you need to save those runners to produce more plants to change out the old.

With veggies in rail system you just have to make sure the plants are not vines and stay short otherwise the roots will clog up the system. You can basically grow anything you want.

The brussel sprout plants are really big. Let me know how that turns out.

My seedlings have sprouted will transfer then to aeroponic soon. I will probably start earlier than usual due to the last 3 summers being some of the hottest we've ever had.

gdgdad 02-17-2021 11:35 AM

Follow up on update...
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Stan, Thanks for the quick response. The wife and I already got both our Covid shots, the Pfizer version (the one we could get the soonest). We have a lot of family visiting from cold snowy Michigan between now and end of May, (five of them college students!) and we wanted to be as ready as possible.

On the lettuce, we have one more night possibly going to 39, I’ll cover green house and heat. Weathers been VERY strange, mid 80’s for days then 1 day out of the blue in the 30’s overnight, and then back to 80’s. Even our weather guy says he’s never seen anything like it. We’re in the 80’s while Michigan is in low teens – largest temperature difference I’ve ever seen since I’ve lived in Florida - crazy!

I’m going to start looking for strawberry plants locally (Lowes, Home Depot) but I doubt they’re available yet. Do you know of an on-line source for strawberry plants starting to bear fruit? I know they’ll kill me on shipping but it’d be worth it to get started.

On the runners, you mention “small pots” with soil. Can you suggest an ideal pot size and soil type (I.E. Vermiculite? Potting soil?). I can easily fabricate a shelf for the pots to sit on under the rail(s).

Thanks, Gary PS – Threw in a few more pics; Brussels sprouts, Green Pepper and the greenhouse

Stan 02-19-2021 06:55 PM

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Any small size pot like the size of a small net pot with any type "moist" soil. You are only going to use them to start rooting in soil. Once they have roots you can either transfer them to the hydroponic rail or to a larger pot with soil that can hold them for a year or more. The large size all depends on how many runners take root. I've had like 10 plants in a pot you would use for Elephant Ears and they produced lots of strawberries without ever having to do anything but water them every other day during the summer months.

As for lettuce they will grow in very cold climate as long as they are being grown in a greenhouse. Here's 2 different lettuce plants I have been growing outdoors this winter in old 5 gallon buckets made into an earth box. I use the same cattle fencing I use to make tomato cages and cover it using clear plastic. We've had mostly 30 - 40 degree temps but have had a few in the lower 20's and the plants are doing fine.

gdgdad 02-20-2021 10:00 AM

Update & thanks
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Thanks Stan! I’ll be running to the local Wal Mart today, their web site says they have Strawberry plants in stock (from Bonnie plants), so I’ll probably pick up about 5 and some small net pots. I moved the remaining lettuce plants to the rail system (see pics).

Question on the lettuce – I’ve read a lot about having to shade them from sun, did you do that?

Lastly, you can see I have 2 beefsteaks starting to ripen (finally). I also have a good number of clones underway. I keep clones going just in case I lose a plant and / or a plant is done. They usually get way to big for the cloner and I end up giving them away.

I’ll keep you posted on how the “Strawberry project” goes..

Stan 02-22-2021 09:49 AM

With lettuce I'm not sure if you might have lettuce that can grow in the type of heat you get down in your area. With lettuce I have grown (green leaf and red leaf)as long as high temperature during the day is around 80 degrees they will thrive in full day sun. In temps 85+ degrees they grow slowly until they start flowering even in the shade. They need cooler temps to grow so you might want to get prepared down the line to move them into the house. They will do just fine either by a window or by using florescent grow lights. If you are going to keep them outdoors in a shaded area during the summer try to get as many seedlings started now so they are at least 2-4 inches tall when the heat arrives. You should have lettuce all summer.

Your plants are looking really good! The lettuce will be shooting up and spreading out pretty fast. The tomatoes are looking great!

With your clones if you want to slow down the growth process cutting the roots down short will do the trick. If you want to slow them down for a month cut the roots almost up to net pots. If you want to slow them down about 2 weeks cut 1/2 the full length. You should only test this on 1 plant as your tomato plants and climate is different than mine so you might end up with different results.

gdgdad 03-07-2021 05:24 PM

Update and “strawberry intentions”….
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Hi Stan, hope all’s going well. I FINALLY found a nursery with blooming strawberry plants though I had to drive halfway across Florida to get them. The nursery wasn’t sure if they were everblooming, but I had no other alternative(s), and they only had a few left. Anyway, I bought 5 - 1 gal plants, 3 with strawberries. I was really worried how I’d get these into my 2” net cups. Thought for sure I’d have to order larger net cups and enlarge the rail holes. I did the root rinse (they had a LOT of bark filler) and had to cut out the bottom of the net cups. Roots and stem fit “snuggly” into the tapered cups, then I placed (packed?) hydroton around them. I don’t believe I lost any roots (there were some thick, long ones!), and they seem to be doing OK (see the steps I took in the pics). They were put into the rail system March 3rd. How long would it take for them to adjust?

I’ll put a second post updating progress on the tomatoes, peppers, Brussels sprouts and lettuce.

Stan 03-07-2021 08:46 PM

It should take only a week for the strawberry plants to get used to the new environment. You might lose the strawberries currently on the plant but they will produce a ton of strawberries in that system.

If you end up buying more strawberry plants you don't have to cut the bottom of those net pots off. Those net pots have large openings on the bottom. All you need is a 1 foot piece of 50lb test monofilament fishing line. Use it to pull a small amount of roots at a time. When you get a decent amount you can pull them from the bottom. Strawberry plant roots are very strong.

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