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Muddling Through Hydroponic Contingencies


View Poll Results: Are you willing to be part of a theoretical research group?
Yes 5 83.33%
No 1 16.67%
Voters: 6. You may not vote on this poll

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  #1  
Old 04-24-2012, 02:16 PM
hammerpamf hammerpamf is offline
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Default Muddling Through Hydroponic Contingencies

Years ago I began doing hydroponics on a limited scale, making many of the mistakes typical to hobbyists with minimal experience in such a complex undertaking. Questions soon outpaced answers and the world was full of possibility, though murky at best. It didn't take long for me to discover that the answers to most of my questions were: "It depends." One of the defining characteristics of hydroponics, which is a complex system, is the contingent nature of plant-system interactions. Is peat moss a good growing medium? Yes and no: it depends. Is flood-and-drain a better growing system than aeroponics? Yes and no: it depends.

Over time, I developed my skills through a combination of experience and dedicated research. Currently, I make my living through a combination of hydroponic crop production, systems manufacturing, and consulting (e.g. experimental trials for media and nutrient companies); in addition, much of my free time is spent researching hydroponic questions, writing articles for both popular and academic journals, doing community outreach to spread the gospel-so to speak-of hydroponics, and preparing a textbook on the subject.

Going to chat rooms and grow forums are a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be entertaining and fruitful to discuss ideas and swap advice with our fellow growers; on the other hand, forums are generally decentralized regarding skill level and interests; in other words, it is difficult to foster meaningful progress on specific topics - that is, it's difficult to answer abstract questions (e.g. which media aspect is more important for plant growth: water holding capacity, air filled porosity, or cation exchange capacity?) when the group isn't focused on answering that question beyond offering their opinion briefly, then moving on to the next thread. This approach of muddling through questions has its advantages, but I also think we can gain a lot of knowledge by forming a group to tackle a small set of questions, in-depth, that apply to a large number of crops and system characteristics.

Now I understand that for many, if not most, of us on this website see hydroponics as a hobby and nothing more. But I can tell by the relative posting frequency of the participants that many are dedicated to the subject and interested in improving their hydroponic intellect and effectiveness as growers. How many of you would quit your job tomorrow and pursue a hydroponic career full time if the conditions were right? My guess: many. Even if you wouldn't go that far, wouldn't you like to be a part of knowledge creation for your hobby - perhaps be a coauthor of a magazine article?

Traditionally research is done in academia and business settings, but the Internet gives us the opportunity to conduct experiments in a decentralized fashion. Why can't we organize a research effort around a central question and report our findings to one another, ultimately writing up the results and publishing them as a group effort?

I have created the Theoretical Hydroponics Group, a social group on this site, the purpose of which will be to formulate a platform from which we can move forward this idea of translating theoretical questions into experimental results. This group will serve as a steering committee to analyze such questions as relevant data that needs to be collected and perhaps formulate a set of concrete questions that can be experimented. From here, new groups can be formed based on individual questions/experiments that anchor an interested community of growers. The point is, we can use this platform to push the envelope of our knowledge and get some enjoyment out of it as a community, rather than simply muddling through the contingencies...Please join the group if you are willing to donate a little bit of your time and effort towards furthering hydroponic sciences.


Last edited by hammerpamf; 04-24-2012 at 03:10 PM.
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  #2  
Old 04-25-2012, 07:25 AM
GpsFrontier GpsFrontier is offline
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Hello hammerpamf,
I also have been growing hydroponically for years, and I'm now in the process trying to make it a career. Not a career in selling hydroponic products, but produce grown hydroponically. I have also spent many countless hours doing research over the years to answer those questions I have. As well as the over 40 articles I wrote on various subjects of hydroponics. I also got very few good answers to my questions when I started out. That's what led to me starting to do my own research to find out the answers to my questions in the first place. I don't think I do anything different, but I have learned some tricks to narrow down good information, and weed out the rest. I have also learned to save the good information to my computer in text files (not just bookmarking it), and pdf's to be able to reference it easier later. I'll even e-mail tech support to various nutrient manufactures to get their opinion too.

Just so you know, I'm not sure what to make of your intentions in this forum. I don't mean any offense, but I have seen so many other people who give their credentials you do (like giving a resume) that wind up just wanting generate visitors to another website in the end. I don't know if your just trying to build up a reputation before beginning to spam the forum, or generally want to be a part of the forum. I cant say you have done anything wrong yet, just saying that I see signs I have seen before that have me wondering.

That said, I tried to join the group, not sure if I did it right or not. But in any case, I think it's an interesting idea. However I'm not sure that the questions I have can actually be answered any better without real lab/controlled testing. Again that's why I look for research done by reputable sources. As an example I would be interested in research on compost tea. I know I can make a compost tea brewer, and brew a good compost tea (even though that's a whole subject in itself). However compost teas rely on live beneficial microbes. I know there are many manufactures that sell compost teas, but how effective are they after a few weeks/months of storage? Brewing my own would only be worth it if I could store it effectively. Things like how long will the beneficial microbes survive, In what numbers do they exist. What individual mineral nutrient concentrations are in the compost tea to start, and how if it at all it diminishes over time are the type of questions I have.

Other aspects of interest for me include plant disease (including pest damage), and/or nutrient deficiency and toxicity for specific crops. Without the verifiable lab testing of the disease, pest conformation, and/or nutrient problem, coming to any conclusions is skeptical at best to conclude. Not to mention witch problem started first, because pests tend to attack/infest unhealthy plants first.

I'm also highly interested in using beneficial microbes, bacteria, and fungi to combat pathogens and preventive maintenance of them. However without real controlled testing of various strains, then testing them on specific crops, and against specific problems. Well that's the kind of research I'm looking for. I have also done research on using UV light treatment for disease control. I haven't built one yet, but in order to verify the effectiveness at specific light intensity's, water flow rates, and depth's takes specific controlled testing. I haven't found reliably research on those aspects yet.

I have nothing against backyard growers (I am one), but they just don't have the kind of money and resources to conduct real controlled research. I also need to ask who is going to be responsible for policing and verifying the findings? That also poses the question of if their qualified to do so or not.
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Last edited by GpsFrontier; 04-25-2012 at 08:57 AM.
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  #3  
Old 04-25-2012, 10:04 AM
hammerpamf hammerpamf is offline
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Default Glad to Work Together

No offense taken regarding the questioning of my motives - a healthy skepticism is a great, some would say necessary, quality for good research.

I assure you that my motives are purely scientific and social in nature. While actions will speak louder than words over time, I do offer a small number of reasons to trust me. First, I am lonely in IL - a metaphorical desert of hydroponics; the only like-minded growers tend to grow one specific crop (hmm), only occasionally congregate at gardening stores, and aren't really interested so much in hydroponics. Second, my wife and I are preparing to have our first child; thus aside from my business and playing a leading role in raising our baby (as my wife will be returning to her winemaker position - gotta be rough) this forum will be my main contact to the outside world of hydroponics: I have no intention of ruining this. Third, I actually do have a website that my wife setup for me as a Christmas gift, but I don't tell anyone about it. Why? Well, it's in complete disrepair to start with, but moreso because it is geared towards providing information to my local community, customers, and family, not intended to be a money generator through ads (there actually isn't any advertising on it). I mention my family because my wife and I don't use any social media sites like Facebook, so we do a little blog on there to keep them abreast of how we're doing. So regarding motives, actions will speak louder than words...but I hope my brief explanations will help to assuage your questioning of my motives a little bit.

Now regarding the rest of your post concerning the research: In the early stages of this project (e.g. this first year), I am thinking we should focus on building group dynamics and using it as a test case for doing research as a decentralized community. In other words, let's not try to hit a home run on our first group experiment; there will undoubtedly be bugs and glitches with the data collection and experimental error that may exclude our findings from being published in a respected academic journal; but if anything, having a group pull together for a growing season and working together will definitely merit our group getting our results published in a popular hydroponics magazine (e.g. Maximum Yield) or perhaps a presentation at a hydroponics conference (e.g. International Society of Horticultural Sciences [ISHS]). This I am not too concerned with at the moment - even if we don't get published or present our results this first year, at least we got to work together as a community of like-minded growers.

Regarding the difficulties that need to be overcome, such as lack of funding and access to lab testing, I don't see these as large impediments to our group making great progress. The greatest architectural and engineering accomplishments of ancient Greece and antiquity Roman Republic/Empire were built by people who lacked formal training in any type of rigorous mathematics and engineering - the Romans relied primarily on arithmetic and empirical knowledge (i.e. knowledge from experience). If they could build the Parthenon, Coliseum, and domed cathedrals, we can definitely find creative ways to conduct hydroponic experiments without lab testing...after all, our common link is interest and experience in hydroponics. To analyze the data we generate from our experiments, it will take individuals trained in statistics and have an experimental background; since I have a graduate degree in management/operations science (i.e. statistical analysis, management, optimization rolled into one) I will offer my services to shoulder much of the burden; but I'm sure others will also take a look at the data and offer interpretations of the results. Then, we can either write up sections as a team and put them together (smoothing out the narrative once together), or come to some other arrangement. Either way, everyone in the group should have access to the data.

Whew! Almost done with this post: regarding your interests in compost teas and beneficial bacteria, I have some research papers laying around somewhere (i.e. I belong to the ISHS and also have an interest in these topics, so I got some papers from there). I'll be able to get you some info in the next few days.
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Old 04-25-2012, 08:21 PM
hammerpamf hammerpamf is offline
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Default Changing Mission of Theoretical Hydroponics Group

I was reminded today the degree to which my time is being stretched thin between the business, my soon-to-be-newborn baby, and other obligations to family and whatnot. Thus, while I am excited about the idea of having a decentralized research community and definitely want to do it in the future, it doesn't appear to be the best time to start one. Perhaps the biggest problem is going to be the timing: the growing season has already begun for many of us - making it harder to make new systems and dedicate resources and time to changing plans. I didn't do a lot of preparations for doing the Growstone trials, and I would quite literally be miles behind to start a new experiment and coordinate with others via this forum. So, I apologize for proposing the community experiment before deciding it isn't feasible at this point in time. I hope we can do something of the sort during an upcoming season - whether it is an indoor experiment this winter, or outdoor experiment next summer.

I am going to begin posting different topics within the Theoretical Hydroponics Group to stimulate in-depth debate on particular topics. Feel free to join if you're interested!
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  #5  
Old 04-29-2012, 12:53 PM
hammerpamf hammerpamf is offline
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Default Peer Review Problems

AH - I agree with you that peer review is a good method for scholarly progress, but it has its problems. The main problem - politics. Years ago as a doctoral candidate, I published a number of articles in scholarly journals covering a diverse range of topics (e.g. dynamics of lung cancer, judgment and decision making of professional football coaches, statistical analysis/risk management of agricultural policies, criminal networks, etc) and in each and every field, I realized politics are ever-present; the more specialized the journal, the more political the editorial policies. Even though my publications were double-blind reviewed for the most part, the editors have a fairly good sense of who you work with based on your theoretical slant/methods.

Forums like this have a similar problem with peer review: who are the peers for anyone of us. I specialize in mathematical analysis - this doesn't mean I'm smarter than those that don't understand differential equations, but it does mean we see the world through different metaphorical lenses; GPS pointed this out indirectly when he questioned who would police the data/findings.

That's why I am still going to ask anyone who is interested in theoretical debates, at a deeper level, to join the Theoretical Hydroponics Group (i.e. social group). I noticed five yes votes thus far to the poll question, but we still only have two members. Once we get a few more members, I would like to start discussing theoretical topics such as: what is the most appropriate type of irrigation system for large plants? Sure, the answer is it depends, but to push hydroponic science further along, we need to analyze and debate the conditions that narrow down the potential contingencies that answer questions like this.
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Old 05-01-2012, 06:35 AM
GpsFrontier GpsFrontier is offline
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Quote:
GPS pointed this out indirectly when he questioned who would police the data/findings
Ya, I wasn't trying to say nobody is qualified, or anyone specific should do it. But as someone who tries to be objective, the information/conclusions are only as good as how the research was carried out and evaluated in the first place. That's why knowing how any study is done, who conducted it, and/or how it's evaluated is so important in it's considered being trustworthy information. Otherwise, it may be interesting reading, but should only be taken with a few grains of salt.

Quote:
I noticed five yes votes thus far to the poll question, but we still only have two members.
This may be because they don't know how to join the group. Heck I didn't, and I've been on this forum for over 3 years. It's likely they don't know they need to go to your profile page, and click on the group. I forget what to do then. Heck it didn't even show I joined at first.

Quote:
Once we get a few more members, I would like to start discussing theoretical topics such as: what is the most appropriate type of irrigation system for large plants? Sure, the answer is it depends
In my experience, a drip system is my preferred method for large plants. But yes it depends, and however the down side is needing a larger amount of growing media. I prefer to use disposable growing media myself because it's to time consuming to clean and sanitize it for reuse. That's why I'm always on the lookout for inexpensive sources of growing media like pine chips, pine bark, coco coir etc. etc..

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