Grow: Hydroponics and Aquaponics Update
Hello everyone! I’ve been “sustainable gardening” for over a year now — with the aquaponics, hydroponics and microgreens. Some of our experiments are GREAT…. and some….well….let me just show you:
Things That Worked
Hydroponic Sweet Potatoes (in a barrel)
From our Potatoes in A Barrel Experiment – the sweet potatoes are growing like crazy! I have added more media into the container 3 times and they are showing no signs of slowing down. I have resisted digging down in the media looking for sweet potatoes for fear of introducing mold or air that may lead to rot. I continue to water these daily and am waiting patiently for the leaves to start yellowing before I dump the barrel in search of sweet potato gold!
Our carrots took off as well. After a slow start (see Needs Improvement section below), these suckers took root and reached for the stars. Some of the greens reached three feet tall, with little carrot tops poking above the media.
With some of the greens starting to yellow we decided to harvest the carrots yesterday. A bountiful bouquet of multi-colored beauties!
The carrots were grown in a mixture of vermiculite and perlite.
What is Vermiculite and Perlite? Perlite is a white light weight puffy volcanic glass material that doesn’t absorb water and promotes drainage. Vermiculite is a darker light weight silicate clay material that promotes water retention and attracts nutrients to help promote plant growth. Most potting mixes contain one or both of these materials. In our case we omitted the soil and used just the vermiculite and perlite mixture to grow in.
What Needs Improvement:
Hydroponic Butterball Potatoes
Our butterball potatoes didn’t fair so well. Neither the soil based or the hydroponic media based potatoes made it past the first few weeks. Most never started producing leaves or showed indications of growth. The few that did start leaves quickly died back. When I carefully pulled back the growing media, most of the potatoes were mushy gooey balls. The ones in the soil faired no better. Which makes me question the viability of the potatoes we used for the starts.
The carrots were quick to sprout and form their first leaves, but growth slowed to a snails pace. Same with the sweet potato starts we received. They took hold and then kind of maintained their size with no new growth evident. At that time I was in the midst of preparing to switch over to Aquaponics 2.0. I had lowered my feed rate to the fish and therefore there was not as much nutrients in the system for the plants. I decided to augment the aquaponics water with an organic hydroponic solution. I would use the water from our fish tank and add to it the hydroponics solution diluted to half the recommend ratio. This sparked the growth of both the carrots and sweet potatoes.
Things We’ll Try Next Time:
Can you tell how many carrots grew in one?
Carrots need their space! With a slow start and the excitement of new growth, I never thinned our crop. We had some mutant carrots with other carrots growing through them. Multiple large carrots were surrounded by dwarf carrots. Next time when the starts reach 2 inches tall, I will thin the crop down to give each carrot 2-3 inches in between. Evidently carrots have a personal space zone.
Some of the carrots were huge and started to split. We even found one carrot (see above photo) – where a carrot grew within a carrot which grew within another carrot!
Need to harvest a little sooner. Hopefully the increased space between carrots will allow for easier observation of the top of the actual carrot to better judge when to harvest.
I haven’t given up on potatoes yet. I think the next approach will entail taking the starting potatoes and making sure they get a good start before introducing them into the barrels. Some time spent in a paper bag in a dark room ( I heard they like that) or perhaps starting them in water like an elementary school experiment for fifth graders. Hmmm, maybe something the kids could do? Hey Andrew and Nathan, wanna try a cool “Science Project”….
While I like the Potatoes in a Barrel concept, I am thinking of incorporating a wicking bed into the aquaponics set up. Now the water used in the wicking bed will not be returned to the system, but it does conserve water usage in general as it is not absorbed into the ground. At the same time the wicking bed provides plants access to the naturally nutrient rich aquaponic water. If you are interested check out this article on wicking beds.
I have completed the change over to Aquaponics 2.0 (more on that in a later post), and the nutrient levels are rising in the water, I will attempt to start the next batch of carrots using only the aquaponic water.
As with everything in this venture of growing our own food, it is a fun process of tinkering, learning, experimentation and growing from both our successes and our
failures learning experiences. Our goal is still the same, grow some of our own food and encourage others to do the same.
Video Tour of our Hydroponics and Aquaponics Garden